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Rush clinch first place, home playoff berth

A blistering start paved the way to a slick 13-8 win for the Saskatchewan Rush and top spot in the NLL’s West Division for a sixth straight season.

The win, before a crowd of more than 14,000 at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, secured home-turf advantage throughout the West Division playoffs for the defending league-champion Rush (11-7), and also sets up a rematch with the Mammoth (6-12) next Friday in the one-game West Semifinal.

Saskatchewan has now won 12 of the last 14 regular-season games against Colorado including seven in a row, while the Mammoth will enter the playoffs in the midst of a four-game losing streak.

“We quickly turned the page after last week’s performance,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan, reflecting on his club’s loss in Calgary. “We still controlled our own ability to finish first and we earned it ourselves. Now we’re back here next Friday and that’s what we wanted.”

Saskatchewan steamrolled the Mammoth in the opening quarter, jumping out to a 5-0 lead, including goals by Ryan Keenan and Jeff Shattler just 29 seconds apart, and a power-play tally from Mark Matthews.

After capping the scoring in the first frame, Marty Dinsdale counted his second of the night to make it 6-0 for the Rush early in the second when he scooped a loose ball in the corner, threw a spin move on a Colorado defender, and then went airborne into the crease while tucking the ball past Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward. Matthews connected on the power play again for the Rush as a rocket to the top shelf temporarily got Ward hooked from the net.

Dinsdale then completed his hat trick 57 seconds later with a hot shot over the shoulder of Mammoth goalie Steve Fryer that ended up getting the backup pulled and Ward sent back into the Colorado net. The Mammoth finally ended the Rush run after getting stonewalled by Evan Kirk for 21:30, but the Rush answered the Colorado just 24 seconds later on Robert Church’s 200th career goal. Curtis Knight potted back-to-back goals to give Saskatchewan an overwhelming 11-1 lead at halftime.

“That was a very good first half for us coming off a terrible game last week,” said Matthews.

The Rush’s offensive onslaught was curtailed in the third quarter, but they still added to their count as Mark Matthews collected his hat trick with a quick-stick finish in transition on a pass from Keenan, and Dinsdale notching his fourth of the night.

Colorado did find some redemption in the second half, including a four-goal run in the fourth quarter, but it was much too little too late for the visitors.

Keenan (1 goal, 5 assists) and Dinsdale (4 goals, 2 assists) both finished the night with six points for the Rush, while Matthews (3 goals, 2 assists) and Jeff Shattler (2 goals, 3 assists) both had five-point efforts. Kirk picked up his first home-turf win in over a month, coming back from injury and looking in top form as he finished with 46 saves. His best stop came in the second quarter when he made a brilliant save on a breakaway chance for the Mammoth’s Jeremy Noble.

Noble, who had gone goalless since December, did break out of a dreadful slump by notching a hat trick, with the Mammoth also getting goals from Jacob Ruest, Chris Wardle, and Ryan Lee.

West Semifinal tickets will go on sale to the general public here, tomorrow morning at 10:00am.

NLL Playoff Format: The 2018-2019 NLL regular season concludes in Week 20 before the NLL Playoffs start the weekend of May 3-5.

  A total of eight NLL teams, the top four clubs in each division’s standings, will qualify for the playoffs. The East and West Division winners will be seeded #1 within their respective divisions and play the #4 seed, while the #2 and #3 seeds play each other in the first round, with the higher seed hosting round 1.

  The two first round winners from each division will face off in the Division Finals in a one game series, hosted by the highest remaining seed. The East and West Division winners will then play a best two-of-three game series in the NLL Finals. The highest remaining seed will host games one and three, if necessary.

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